torture

Condi Rice Comes to Town; Press Focuses on her Piano Skills

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Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will be speaking in Grand Rapids on Monday at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids’ annual dinner. As is always the case with these events, they are limited to members of the Economic Club and their guests, with makes it so that ordinary folks generally can’t see what these former government officials say. Moreover, when they are in town to speak about their experiences while in government, citizens deserve a chance to know what is said. Ideally, that is a role that media can play.

But, I doubt we’ll get much serious coverage from The Grand Rapids Press or the other local media in town. In advance of her appearance, The Grand Rapids Press has focused on her piano skills:

She won’t be tickling the ivory, but Economic Club of Grand Rapids officials still are excited to hear from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. There had been quiet hopes the 1,500-plus attendees would hear a piano performance from Rice, dubbed the world’s most prominent amateur musician by The New York Times in 2006. Club Executive Director Lorna Schultz said she was disappointed, but organizers just couldn’t work it out. Still, the crowd for the club’s 22nd annual dinner will be the fourth largest on record.

You would think that they would focus on her record–particularly as it relates to torture. A group of students at Stanford recently campaigned for Condoleezza Rice–a faculty member–to be prosecuted for war crimes:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

For those who want to learn more about Condoleezza Rice’s record, a profile of her on SourceWatch.org has a good critical overview of her career, particularly with regard to her role in selling the Iraq War. It’s also worth reading recent news articles about her giving specific approval of torture.

Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Torture Truth Commission

Democracy Now Headlines: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured; CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Hundreds of Thousands Protest in Iran; Seven Killed

In Iran, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Tehran Monday to protest last week’s disputed presidential election. Defying an official ban on protests, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi joined the massive crowd, which has been described as the largest anti-government demonstration in Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The protests turned bloody last night when seven people were reportedly killed. Meanwhile, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council says it will order a recount of votes in contested areas of Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in Friday’s poll with 63 percent, compared with 34 percent for Mousavi. On Monday, President Obama said he was “deeply troubled” by the violence but would continue to pursue “tough direct diplomacy” with Iran. Supporters of Mousavi have also been holding protests in Paris, New York, Washington and other cities. Babak Talebi took part in a demonstration Monday in Washington.

Babak Talebi: “We are here to show our solidarity with the people inside Iran who are out on the streets demanding that their voice be heard. And they’re demanding a new election, and we’re demanding that the previous one on Friday not be legitimized through recognition in the mainstream media and international entities. We want to make sure that we all stand with the people in Iran and what their demands are.”

Report: Kennedy Health Bill Would Leave 36 Million Uninsured

A new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that Senator Edward Kennedy’s plan to expand healthcare coverage would cost about $1 trillion over the next ten years and fall far short of providing universal healthcare coverage. According to the CBO, the plan would reduce the number of uninsured by 16 million people, but even if the bill became law, 36 million people would remain uninsured in 2017.

Supreme Court Won’t Review Cuban Five Case

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by five jailed Cuban nationals known as the Cuban Five. The five men were convicted in 2001 for spying on the US military and Cuban exiles in southern Florida. All five are serving time in federal prisons across the country. The men say they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission. Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba’s Parliament, criticized the Supreme Court for refusing to hear the appeal.

Ricardo Alarcon: “Today is a day of shame and of anger. It is a day of shame for those who believe in justice in the North American system. It is a day of anger for many people in all the world that have called upon the US Supreme Court to do something very simple, which is to review the case of the Cuban Five.”

Attorneys for the Cuban Five have argued their trial should have been moved from Miami, the heart of the Cuban American community, because of a biased jury pool.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Border Wall Case

The Supreme Court has also refused to accept a case seeking to stop construction of a wall along the the US-Mexico border. Several Texas border communities had sued the federal government after former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff waived thirty-six federal laws protecting water, air quality, endangered animals and Native American sites in order to build the border wall.

Pelosi Pressures Antiwar Democrats to Back War Funding Bill

On Capitol Hill, the Democratic House leadership is pressuring antiwar Democrats to support a $106 billion supplemental war funding bill. In May, fifty-one antiwar Democrats opposed an earlier version of the bill. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to pressure some of those Democrats to switch their votes to help pass a new version of the bill that also includes increased funding for the International Monetary Fund. California Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey says the White House has threatened to pull support from freshman antiwar Democrats who vote no on the bill. In order to block passage, thirty-nine House Democrats need to join with Republicans opposing the bill.

Pakistan to Expand Offensive Against Taliban

Pakistan is preparing to expand its war against the Taliban by launching a new offensive in South Waziristan, home to Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader. This will mark the second front in Pakistan’s war against militants. Over the past six weeks, Pakistan, with US backing, has waged a major attack on the Swat Valley. The fighting has displaced more than two million civilians.

Al Jazeera Employees Detained in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, two Al Jazeera employees have been detained after being told by officials to report to the country’s intelligence headquarters. Meanwhile, General Stanley McChrystal has taken over as the top US commander in Afghanistan.

UK to Conduct Private Inquiry into Iraq War

The British government has announced it will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the country’s role in the Iraq war. But antiwar campaigners are criticizing the government’s decision to conduct the inquiry in private.

Report: CIA Director Initially Backed Truth Commission

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed he initially supported the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. Panetta told The New Yorker magazine, quote, “I could see that it would make some sense, frankly, to appoint a high-level commission, with somebody like Sandra Day O’Connor, Lee Hamilton–people like that.” Panetta dropped his support for the Truth Commission after President Obama essentially vetoed the idea in late April.

CIA Officer in El-Masri Rendition Promoted Twice

The New Yorker magazine has also revealed that the CIA has twice promoted an officer responsible for the rendition and detention of an innocent German citizen named Khaled El-Masri. CIA agents kidnapped El-Masri in Macedonia and flew him to Afghanistan, where he was held in a dungeon and tortured. He was jailed for 149 days without charge. The CIA officer refused to release El-Masri even after it was clear that he was not a terror suspect. The officer was never reprimanded.

KSM Says He Gave False Info After Being Tortured

Newly declassified documents reveal that the CIA’s use of torture may have produced false information. Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told US military officials that he made up stories about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts after being tortured.

Carter: Netanyahu Blocking Peace With Palestinians

Former President Jimmy Carter has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of setting up new obstacles to peace with the Palestinians. On Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution, but only if the new Palestinian state had no army and no control of its airspace and borders. Jimmy Carter spoke during a stop in Jerusalem.

Jimmy Carter: “My opinion is he raised many new obstacles to peace that had not existed under previous prime ministers. He still apparently insists on expansion of existing settlements, he demands that the Palestinians and the Arabs recognize Israel as a Jewish state although 20 percent of the citizens here are not Jews. This is a new demand, President Obama in his speech called for two states and am glad Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted that concept.”

Earlier today Jimmy Carter visited Gaza for the first time since the Israeli invasion.

Jimmy Carter: “It’s very distressing to me, I have to hold back tears when I see the deliberate destruction that has been racked against your people. I come here to the American school which was educating your children, supported by my own country and I see that this been deliberately destroyed by bombs from F-16 made in my country and delivered to the Israelis.”

Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Ismail Haniya later today.

Campaigners Urge Caterpillar To Halt Bulldozer Sales to Israel

Shareholders of the company Caterpillar have rejected an effort by human rights activists to stop the firm from selling bulldozers to Israel to be used to demolish homes in Gaza and the West Bank. At the company’s annual meeting last week dissident shareholders submitted a resolution calling for a review of Caterpillar sales to militaries with poor human rights records, including Israel. The Israeli activist Matan Cohen of the group Anarchists Against the Wall attended the shareholders meeting.

Matan Cohen: “Caterpillar has been arguing for years that they are not responsible for what their clients are doing with their products and we made a very simple case. As a recent ruling in the United States court, in the state of New York said, if you are willfully blind to what your clients are doing with your products, you are as legally culpable as they are, hence we demanded Caterpillar stopped providing Israel its services, and stop giving them D-9 bull dozers with which Israel has been demolishing, homes constructing the seperation wall, and uprooting olive groves on a day-to-day basis.”

Environmental Justice Attorney Luke Cole, 46, Dies

And the pioneering environmental justice attorney Luke Cole has died at the age of 46. He was the co-founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. Over the years Cole battled toxic waste facilities, mega-dairies, mining companies and other pollution threats in poor and minority communities in California and Alaska. Cole died last week after a car accident in Uganda.

Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit; Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Iran Supreme Leader Calls For Probe Into Disputed Election

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud in Friday’s presidential vote. Khamenei made the announcement following three days of street protests by supporters of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, who has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election. Khamenei’s decision to call for a probe has shocked many in Iran. On Saturday Khamenei had urged the nation to unite behind Ahmadinejad and called the result a “divine assessment.” According to the official election results, Ahmadinejad was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote but Moussavi claims the vote was rigged. Moussavi was planning to hold a major rally in Tehran today but Iranian officials ordered a ban on protests. Opposition websites report that over a 100 prominent opposition members were detained and then released over the weekend. At a rally on Sunday Ahmadinejad spoke before tens of thousands of his supporters.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “In our beloved Iran, democracy is a fundamental principle. First of all, it’s the nation which determines everything. It’s the people who decide. It’s the nation’s will that governs. It’s the nation which selects the rulers in every decision making level of the political system”

UN Approves New North Korean Sanctions

Tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount. On Friday, the United Nations Security Council agreed to a new round of sanctions against North Korea. North Korea responded by vowing to step up its nuclear bomb-making program by producing more plutonium and uranium. North Korea also threatened war on any country that dared to stop its ships on the high seas under the new sanctions. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is headed to Washington for summit talks Tuesday with President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu Backs Demilitarized Palestinian State

Palestinian officials have condemned a major policy speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying it closed the door to permanent status negotiations. During the speech on Sunday Netanyahu said for the first time he could accept a two-state solution but only if the new Palestinian state had no army, no control of its airspace and borders, and would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Binyamin Netanyahu: “If we receive this guarantee for demilitarization and the security arrangements required by Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, we will be prepared for a true peace agreement (and) to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.”

During the speech Netanyahu also said Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and that israel would not concede to US demands for a complete halt to all settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “He is not with the two state solution, he is not going to stop settlements including natural growth so we have attempts to move a peace process which was moving like a turtle in the region, now Netanyahu tonight flipped it on it’s back. It’s really up to President Obama tonight, he has the choice. He can treat Israel like a country above the laws of men, apply double standards and this will be a costly road, or he can have the Israeli government oblige with it’s commitments eminating from the road map. The two state solution with ’67 borders and stopping settlement activities including natural growth. Tonight what Netanyahu told us-there will not be permanent status negotiations.”

Top Sunni Lawmaker Assassinated in Iraq

In Iraq, a top Sunni lawmaker was assassinated on Friday shortly after giving a sermon calling on authorities to investigate the widespread reports of torture in Iraqi prisons. Harith al-Obaidi is the third Iraqi lawmaker to be assassinated since parliament was elected in 2005.

Report: 30 Lawmakers Have Financial Holdings in Health Care Industry

The Washington Post has revealed almost 30 key lawmakers helping draft landmark health-care legislation have financial holdings in the industry, totaling nearly $11 million worth of personal investments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has at least $50,000 invested in a health-care index. Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, a senior member of the health committee, has up to $560,000 worth of stock holdings in major health-care companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Merck. The family of Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman held at least $3.2 million in more than 20 health-care companies at the end of last year. On Tuesday the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plans to hold a key hearing to discuss health care reform. On that 22-member panel, at least eight senators have financial interests in the health-care industry. The hearings will be led by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd whose wife serves on the boards of four health-care companies. She received more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service last year.

Obama Administration Urges Court to Toss Rendition Lawsuit

The Obama administration is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing subsidiary to be sued over its roles in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration is urging the court to throw out the case citing the State Secrets Act. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners. Jeppesen is accused of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Ben Wizner of the ACLU said: “This is a watershed moment. There’s no mistake any longer … the Obama administration has now fully embraced the Bush administration’s shameful effort to immunize torturers and their enablers from any legal consequences for their actions.”

Judge Rules Jose Padilla Can Sue John Yoo Over Torture

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled Jose Padilla can sue former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo for coming up with the legal theories that justified his detention and torture. Padilla says he was repeatedly tortured while being held as an enemy combatant. Padilla, who is a U.S. citizen, was held for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said QUOTE “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”

CIA Fires Mitchell, Jessen & Associates

CIA Director Leon Panetta has revealed the agency has fired Mitchell, Jessen & Associates and other contractors connected to interrogations. Mitchell, Jessen & Associates was run by two former military psychologists who helped design the CIA’s torture program. Panetta made the disclosure in an interview with the New Yorker Magazine.

CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing U.S. Be Attacked Again

In the same interview CIA Director Leon Panetta harshly criticized former Vice President Dick Cheney for questioning the Obama administration’s national security policies. Panetta said of Cheney “it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

Peruvian President Alan Garcia Accused of Ethnic Genocide

Peruvian President Alan Garcia is warning that police may have to use a ‘heavier hand’ on indigenous protesters in the Amazon following the recent clashes that left over 60 people dead. Indigenous tribes fear losing control of natural resources after recent presidential decrees opened up investment on extending mining and oil drilling in the jungle. Indigenous activists in Peru are calling for investigations into the violence and the resignations of government officials, including Garcia. On Friday the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher spoke in Lima on behalf of the indigenous protesters.

Q’Orianka Kilcher: “And I hear that Garcia has publicly declared my brothers and sisters of the Amazon to be ‘not first-class citizens.’ I have to say, ‘Shame on you, Alan Garcia because we are all first-class citizens. We are all Peruvians. And I hear that you are criminalizing indigenous protesters by calling them terrorists and savages. Who gave orders to commit ethnic genocide?”

Obama Admin To Spend $350 Million On New National Educational Standards

In education news, the Obama administration has announced plans to spend up to $350 million to help develop national standards for reading and math. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the government’s spending will go for the development of tests that would assess those new standards.

Top Minutemen Officials Arrested on Murder Charges

Two top officials of the anti-immigrant group Minutemen American Defense have been arrested on murder charges in Arizona. Shawna Forde, the group’s executive director, and Jason Bush, the group’s operations director were both charged with two counts of first-degree murder. A third person was also charged. Police say the three broke into a home and a killed a man and his 8-year-old daughter. The Minutemen American Defense organization has sent teams of armed vigilantes to the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Canada border in an attempt to stop undocumented workers. It is a separate organization from Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Domestic Workers Rally in New York

And here in New York, over 200 domestic workers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall Sunday to urge state lawmakers to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Speakers included Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch.

Nisha Varia: “It’s an issue of having equal legal protections. It’s about having domestic work recognized as work. And the same sort of issues about not being paid for your work, not having time off, and not being respected-we really need to see the government and employers respond to that.”

Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture; Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of Bankruptcies

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 40 Killed in Pakistan Mosque Bombing

At least forty people are reportedly dead following a bomb attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s Swat Valley. It’s the ninth bombing to hit Pakistan since government forces launched a US-backed attack on Taliban militants in April. US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is in Pakistan today for talks with Pakistani leaders on supporting the offensive. The meeting comes as the United Nations is warning it could be forced to reduce its Pakistan relief efforts unless it receives additional aid. Manuel Bessler of the UN Organization for Humanitarian Assistance cited dwindling supplies.

Manuel Bessler: “Some of the clusters are running short. And in this sense, we have to use all opportunities to bring to the attention of the international community the urgent need to fund this operation. When we are short in funding, short in resources, we will be forced to scale down our operation.”

Around 2.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in Swat and other northwest areas.

Obama Plays Down Mideast Peace Hopes

President Obama is in Germany today on the third stop of his tour of Europe and the Middle East. One day after his speech in Cairo, Obama played down expectations of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under his administration.

President Obama: “The United States can be a partner in solving the problem, but ultimately the parties involved are going to have to make a decision that the prosperity and security of their people is best served by negotiations and compromise. And we can’t force them to make those difficult decisions. What we can do is to provide them a framework and a forum and the support for such an outcome to be achieved.”

The Obama administration has clashed with Israel over a US insistence that Israel end settlement expansion. But it’s refused to leverage massive US aid to Israel or push for the settlements’ complete dismantlement. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he hopes Obama will follow his Cairo speech with meaningful pressure on Israel.

Saeb Erekat: “President Obama’s speech laid the ground for the two-state solution. Now, I hope that in the next few months President Obama will lay a real plan with time lines, monitors and mechanisms to implement and translate the vision of two states from a vision to a realistic political track.”

Obama will pay tribute to victims of the Nazi Holocaust when he tours the Buchenwald concentration camp later today. He’ll then head to France to commemorate D-Day on Saturday.

North Korea Silent on Trial of US Journalists

In North Korea, state officials have remained silent on the trial of two detained US journalists. Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained along the Chinese border in March. Both work for Al Gore’s Current TV. Their trial was supposed to open on Thursday, but there’s been no word on whether it’s begun.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Urges Probe of Afghan Civilian Deaths

The UN’s top human rights official is calling for an independent probe into the rising number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council Thursday, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said attacks by both Taliban militants and US-led forces should be investigated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay: “The government of Afghanistan and all states involved in this conflict should take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure the independent investigation of all civilian casualties, as well as justice and remedies for the victims.”

14 Killed in Somalia Clashes

In Somalia, at least fourteen people have been killed in clashes between government forces and rebel fighters in the capital Mogadishu. The ongoing fighting has caused a new wave of displacements, with around 70,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in the past month. Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour said the humanitarian situation is dire.

Oxfam Somalia relief coordinator Hassan Nour: “You can imagine a situation where nearly half of the country’s entire population are in need of humanitarian aid, where borders are closed, where displacements is taking place, where droughts are actually frequent. One emergency after the other. This is no longer a normal situation. This is an extraordinary humanitarian situation.”

Seven thousand Somali refugees are now pouring into neighboring Kenya each month.

US Ordered to Release Secret Gitmo “Evidence”

A federal judge has ordered the Obama administration to release secret evidence it says justifies the continued imprisonment of over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners. US District Judge Thomas Hogan rejected the government’s blanket request to keep the documents sealed, saying it must seek court approval to keep specific information under wraps. The case was brought by prisoners’ attorneys and a coalition of media groups. Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union hailed the ruling, saying, “For far too long, the government has succeeded in keeping information about Guantanamo secret and used secrecy to cover up illegal detention and abuse.”

Obama Nominee Linked to Spying on Muslims, CIA Torture

The Obama administration’s pick for a top Homeland Security position has ties to the FBI spying on Muslim Americans, as well as reported links to CIA torture. Philip Mudd has been nominated to become secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security. Under the Bush administration, Mudd helped spearhead an FBI program that sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. A congressional aide, meanwhile, told the Associated Press Mudd had direct knowledge of the torture of foreign prisoners while serving as deputy director of the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis. Mudd’s confirmation hearing is expected next week.

Bankruptcy Filings Projected to Reach 1.5M

New figures show consumer and commercial bankruptcies are on pace to reach more than 1.5 million this year. The figure is the highest since Congress passed legislation making it harder to file for bankruptcy in 2005.

Study: Medical Bills Account for Over 60% of US Bankruptcies

A new study, meanwhile, says ballooning medical bills are now responsible for more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in the United States. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says the percentage of bankruptcies linked to medical bills increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007, the last year for which data is available. More than 75 percent of bankrupt families had health insurance but were still crippled by medical debts.

Ex-Countrywide CEO Accused of Fraud, Insider Trading

The former chief executive and co-founder of the mortgage lender Countrywide Financial has been charged with civil fraud and illegal insider trading. On Thursday, federal regulators said Angelo Mozilo and two other Countrywide execs misled shareholders about the failings of their vast holdings in subprime loans. Countrywide played a major role in the subprime mortgage scandal, holding one of every six mortgage loans in the United States.

Tennessee Schools Remove Censorship of LGBT Websites

In Tennessee, school officials have rescinded a ban on websites containing information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against two Tennessee school districts last month for installing software that prevented students from accessing LGBT websites.

Hundreds to Attend Tiller Funeral in Wichita

And in Kansas, hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday’s funeral of the murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. Tiller was killed last Sunday as he ushered during services at his Wichita church. On Thursday, the suspect in his killing, anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, made a brief call to the Associated Press from his jail cell but refused to talk about the murder. Scott Roeder’s brother, David, has said Roeder has suffered from mental illness. Tiller’s funeral will be held at the College Hill United Methodist Church, whose members have previously supported Tiller’s abortion clinic. More than forty-five vigils have been held across the country to honor Tiller since his murder.

Headlines: Cheney: Only Alternative to Guantanamo Is To Kill Terror Suspects; Women’s Health Care Services Clinic in Wichita To Reopen Next Week

Democracy Now Headlines: Cheney: Only Alternative to Guantanamo Is To Kill Terror Suspects; Women's Health Care Services Clinic in Wichita To Reopen Next Week

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.<

GM Files For Bankruptcy

Auto giant General Motors filed for Chapter 11 Monday in one of the largest bankruptcy cases in U.S. history. Under the proposed restructuring plan, the US government will invest another $30 billion in GM-in addition to the $19 billion it has already received-and take ownership of 60 percent of the company.

Women’s Health Care Services Clinic in Wichita To Reopen Next Week

In Wichita Kansas, the Women’s Health Care Services clinic remains closed two days after the murder of its founder Doctor George Tiller. Associates of Tiller said the clinic will resume normal operations next week. Tiller was assassinated Sunday by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist with ties to separatist militia groups. Roeder faces a scheduled court hearing today. Tiller had been a target of anti-abortion activists for over two decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985, eight years later he was shot in both arms. On Monday, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, said Tiller reaped what he sowed.

Randall Terry: “Pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller’s death. George Tiller was a mass-murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”

Due to the threat posed by anti-abortion activists, Attorney General Eric Holder has dispatched US Marshals to protect women’s health clinics and abortion providers nationwide.

UN Enters Gaza For War Crimes Probe

United Nations human rights investigators have entered Gaza to probe possible war crimes and other violations of international law during Israel”s military assault on Gaza last December. Israel has refused to cooperate with the investigation. The UN team is headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

Richard Goldstone: “On behalf of the four members of the fact-finding mission sent here by the United Nations to do a fact-finding with regard to not only the military campaign in December and January in the past few months, but also to look at any violations of international human rights law, of international humanitarian law.”

Obama: U.S. Must Be More ‘Honest’ With Israel

President Obama has reiterated his call for Israel to freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank. Obama’s comment came in an interview on National Public Radio in which he also indicated that he would be more willing to criticize Israel than previous administrations have been.

President Obama: “Part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative — not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that’s part of a new dialogue that I’d like to see encouraged in the region.”

Kidnapped Pakistani Students Rescued

Pakistani soldiers have rescued scores of students and staff from a military-run college who were abducted by Taliban militants in the northwest of the country on Monday. Pakistani officials said 71 students and nine staff members had been rescued. Meanwhile a court in Pakistan has ordered the release of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of an Islamic charity accused of being a front for a group tied to the Mumbai attacks that killed more than 170 people.

Kim Jong-Il Reportedly Picks Son To Be His Successor

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has reportedly designated his youngest son to be the country’s next ruler. Little is known about his youngest son, who is thought to have been born in 1983 or early 1984.

Jimmy Carter Disagrees With Obama on Releasing Torture Photos

Former President Jimmy Carter said last night that he disagrees with President Obama’s decision to block the release of hundreds of photos of torture committed at US prisons overseas. Carter spoke on CNN.

Jimmy Carter: “[M]ost of his supporters were hoping that he would be much more open in the revelation of what we’ve done in the past. But he’s made a decision with which I really can’t contend that he doesn’t want to resurrect the past, he doesn’t want to punish those who are guilty of perpetrating of what I consider crimes against our own laws and against our own constitution. And the revelation of those pictures might very well inflame further animosity against our country causing some harm to our soldiers, so I don’t agree with him, but I certainly don’t criticize him for making that decision.”

Jimmy Carter also also addressed the possible prosecution of Bush administration officials.

Jimmy Carter: “I think prosecuting is too strong a word, what I would like to see is a complete examination of what did happen, the identification of any perpetrators of crimes against our own laws or against international law and then after all that’s done, decide whether or not there should be any prosecutions. But the revelation of what did happen is what I think I would support.”

Gen. Sanchez Calls For Truth Commission

Meanwhile the former top coalition commander in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, has called for a truth commission to investigate abusive interrogation practices. Sanchez said: “If we do not find out what happened then we are doomed to repeat it.” Sanchez was in command of Iraq when the infamous abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib. In 2006 a German attorney filed a war crimes suit against Sanchez and other high-ranking offiicials.

Cheney: Only Alternative to Guantanamo Is To Kill Terror Suspects

Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the military prison at Guantanamo saying the U.S. needs a place to hold suspected terrorists. Cheney said the only alternative the Bush administration had to creating Gauntanamo was to kill terror suspects.

Dick Cheney: “If you’re going to be engaged in a world conflict such as we are, such as the global war on terrorism, if you don’t have a place where you can hold these people, your only other option is to kill them And we don’t operate that way.”

Number of Armed Contractors on Rise in Afghanistan and Iraq

Newly released Pentagon statistics show the number of armed contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan is rapidly rising. The number of military contractors in Afghanistan increased by 29 percent in the second quarter of 2009. The number in Iraq jumped by 23 percent. Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill reports there are now over 240,000 private contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senate Criticized For Voting to Expand Funding of IMF

A coalition of civil society groups, as well as some U.S. lawmakers, are criticizing a recent Senate vote to expand funding for the International Monetary Fund by 108 billion dollars. InterPress Service reports opponents of the funding are concerned about the conditions the IMF usually imposes upon low-income countries when they accept these funds. Typically, the IMF requires recipient countries to reduce their budget deficits and increase interest rates. As a result, countries have been forced to cut essential social programs, like unemployment insurance and other safety-net mechanisms.

Mauricio Funes Sworn In As New President of El Salvador

In El Salvador Mauricio Funes was sworn in as the country’s new president Monday. Funes’ party, the FMLN, is a former guerrilla group that fought El Salvador’s US-backed military government for close to twenty years. Before the start of the inauguration ceremony, Funes visited the shrine of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Cathedral of San Salvador. Romero, the so-called “voice of the voiceless,” was a powerful advocate for the poor and a leading critic of the former military government in El Salvador when he was assassinated while saying mass on March 24, 1980.

Mauricio Funes: “In the midst of the tough economic situation in El Salvador, the least we can do is pay homage publicly to the memory of Monsignor Romero.”?

Baucus to Meet With Single Payer Advocates

After months of protests, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus has agreed to meet with a delegation of leading single payer national health plan advocates on Wednesday. Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and plays a key role in the debate over reforming the health care system. He has repeatedly said a single-payer system is off the table and has iced out single payer advocates from committee hearings.

Protests Set For 200th Execution in Texas Under Governor Perry

Death Penalty opponents in Texas are planning to protest today outside the prison where Terry Lee Hankins is scheduled to be executed. Hankins is set to become the 200th person executed under Texas Governor Rick Perry. No governor has overseen more executions in modern U.S. history. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the state of Ohio should have another chance to sentence a convicted killer to death, despite a previous factual finding that the man is mentally retarded.

No More Deaths Activist on Trial in Arizona

In Arizona a human rights activist from the group No More Deaths went on trial Monday for leaving plastic jugs of water in a National Wildlife Refuge near the U.S.-Mexico border. The activist, Walt Staton, says the water jugs were left to prevent migrants from dying of dehydration. The U.S. government has accused Staton of “knowingly littering” in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. The group No More Deaths has worked for years to provide humanitarian aid to migrants. Over the past decade, nearly 2,000 men, women and children died while trying to cross the border into Arizona.

Catholic Priest & Writer Thomas Berry, 1914-2009

And the Catholic priest, historian and writer Thomas Berry has died at the age of 94. The self- described “geologian” founded the Riverdale Center for Religious Research. In 2005 Berry told a reporter: “If the earth does grow inhospitable toward human presence, it is primarily because we have lost our sense of courtesy toward the earth and its inhabitants.”

Torture Abroad, Coercive Tactics at Home: Looking at Toture and a Recent Supreme Court Ruling

By Kate Wheeler

On Wednesday, May 27, two events occurred that may, at first, seem unconnected. News hit the Internet that the Supreme Court had overturned Michigan v Jackson, the case that established that those arrested for crimes have the right to an attorney present during all questioning by the police. And Darius Rejali, an internationally recognized expert on torture and a professor at Reed College gave an interview on ABC in Australia.

In his Supreme Court decision, Justice Scalia wrote that Michigan v Jackson was “costly” because it delayed justice. Police could not use the methods they knew were effective to extract confessions and wrap up cases quickly enough. The money quote from the opinion was this: “….the principal cost of applying Jackson’s rule is that crimes can go unsolved and criminals unpunished when uncoerced confessions are excluded and when officers are deterred from even trying to obtain confessions.”

Although the opinion is laid out to emphasize that the states have the right to set questioning limits on their own, this last statement is chilling. Scalia seems to be giving a tacit green light to confessions that are extracted by the police using coercion. Coercion as in “to force, threaten, intimidate, and/or seriously harm, to deprive a person of the act of free will.” And Scalia’s opinion ensures it can be done without an attorney present as a witness and an advisor to the arrested party. If that doesn’t start creating some dark images in your mind, it should.

“A police torture crisis sometime in the next 10 to 20 years”

And now we segue to Professor Rejali in Australia, speaking to ABC on the issue of torture used during the so-called “war on terror.” Rejali did an incredible job in his interview of setting this current situation within a historical context. He explains why all the historical evidence shows “there is nothing that predicts future torture as much as past impunity,” adding, “…there’s always somebody who thinks the other guy’s got away with it; why not me, and that’s a dangerous prospect.”

But the part of the interview that really hit home, given the news that day in the US, was Rejali’s discussion of how torture becomes a culture of its own. He described how every time torture had been authorized in war, soldiers would return to their countries and enter into police work or private security work, “…and they bring to it the skills they learned out in the military.”

Rejali stated he believed the torture done in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and other sites would lead to the crisis in the US of “police torture” that would culminate “sometime in the next 10 to 20 years.” And when that happens, the groundwork will have been laid by Supreme Court decisions like the overturning of Michigan v Jackson. Can anyone say “perfect storm”?

Lying with labels

Here at home, the torture issue, triggered by the April 17 release of four memos from the Justice Department that approved CIA torture, is already disappearing from the news cycles. And when it does come up, it’s just as likely to as commentary by right-wingers like Pete Hoekstra, who refer to torture as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and explain to the American public why it was and is necessary and “legal.”

The word “enhanced” is a clever choice; it has been used relentlessly in marketing, always with a positive spin. Its original meaning was “to add to or make greater, as in value, beauty; to augment.” A more recent definition, grown out of its use in advertising, is “to provide with improved, more effective, or more sophisticated features.”

So we’re used to hearing about enhanced software, enhanced podcasts, enhanced cruise-line packages, enhanced facial cleansers.

And now, suddenly, there’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That phrase makes torture sound almost appealing, doesn’t it? It’s the type of spin that has marked and marred political discussion in this country. Think of the titles that have come out of Washington in the past decade. The Clear Skies Initiative, which weakened air pollution protections. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was never fully funded, leaving teachers scrambling and children in the dust. The Coalition of the Willing, which always made me think of a group of Boy Scouts, shiny-faced and enthusiastic, trooping off for some jamboree. The Patriot Act, which undermines the civil rights of every person in this country. And now, “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe sadistic torture which a UN expert has stated as being far worse under the Americans than under Saddam Hussein. Mission accomplished.

“Looking forward” and what that means

Unfortunately, there’s another new catch-phrase that has popped up since April 17–President Obama’s assertion that now is “a time to look forward,” not back. He means he is not willing to initiate an investigation of those who deliberately contravened the Geneva Convention and illegally authorized torture as a questioning technique.

Well, I’d like to look forward, too–to a time when Americans examine and indict prisoners without violating the law; when the Constitution and our international commitments are upheld, and when the police are reined in from brutal misconduct. For that matter, I’d like to look forward to a time when we are no longer involved in a war of aggression that was spun in a web of lies to enhance our oil interests.

But if there’s no looking backward, there is no one held accountable. Without accountability, there’s only the kind of oncoming crisis that Professor Rejali described so eloquently in his ABC interview–our country hardening into a torture culture.

Looking forward is hard when the air is so murky with lies and cover-ups. And sometimes it seems to me that the very air is also polluted with these euphemisms created to drug us into inaction. The air needs clearing, and the bright lights brought in.

What can you do?

Amnesty International is providing several excellent resources. Educate yourself with their online training on torture. Then, use the web page they have set up to send letters to President Obama and your senators and representative. (In my case, the hopeless Vern Ehlers). The web page provides a sample text you can send automatically or you can edit it as you wish. Find it at http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/index.aspx?c=jhKPIXPCIoE&b=2590179&template=x.ascx&action=12193

Amnesty International has also set up a special fund to campaign for an independent commission to examine the torture memos and those who conspired in this criminal action. So if you are able, a donation will also help.

Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

Democracy Now Headlines: White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos' Release; Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of '04 Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

White House Asks Court to Block Torture Photos’ Release

The Obama administration has formally requested the censorship of hundreds of photos of torture committed at U.S. prisons overseas. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal appeals court to block the photos on the grounds they would incite violence against U.S. troops. The administration’s court filing cited two secret statements from top U.S. generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, who have both lobbied for blocking the photos’ release.

Admin Denies Photos Depict Rape, Sexual Abuse

The move came one day after the head of the Abu Ghraib inquiry, Major General Antonio Taguba, said the photos include images of the rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied the claim.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “I think the Pentagon has been very clear in a statement saying that the story is not true. I want to speak generally about some reports I’ve witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways, I’m surprised it filtered down.”

Anti-Torture Activists Call for Prosecutions, Photos’ Release

Meanwhile here in New York, anti-torture activists with the group World Can’t Wait held a protest at Grand Central Station calling for the photos’ release. Protesters donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods similar to those worn by Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Samantha Goldman of World Can’t Wait rejected the Obama administration’s argument for censoring the photos.

Samantha Goldman: “What enflames anti-American sentiment is U.S. military bases around the world, what enflames anti-U.S. sentiment is torture, is what we’re actually going over there to do. That’s what enflames anti-American sentiment, prosecuting the criminals, which, to do that, you need the photos to be released, to actually prosecute Bush era criminals, you would need to have the photos as evidence.”

Report: Cables Indicate Doctor Role in Zubaydah Torture

The investigative website ProPublica is reporting a team of doctors may have been involved in monitoring the torture of suspected al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in August 2002. Secret CIA cables contain several ‘medical updates’ on Zubaydah’s interrogation, where he was waterboarded at least 83 times. The updates contain detailed information that suggests doctors actively monitored the waterboarding in what would be a violation of medical ethics.

Obama Renews Call for Israeli Settlement Freeze

President Obama hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House Thursday for their first formal talks. Obama criticized the Israeli government for rejecting his call to stop expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, but also expressed tacit support for the Palestinian Authority’s repression of opposition groups in the West Bank through its U.S.-trained security forces.

President Obama: “On the Israeli side those obligations include stopping settlements. They include making sure that there is a viable potential Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side it’s going to be important and necessary to continue to take the security steps on the West Bank that President Abbas has already begun to take, working with General Dayton. We’ve seen great progress in terms of security in the West Bank.”

The Israeli government has put itself at odds with Obama over its refusal to end settlement growth and accept the principle of Palestinian statehood. Abbas said the key to peace lies in Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Mr. President, I believe that the entire Arab world and the Islamic world, they are all committed to peace. We’ve seen that through the Arab League Peace Initiative that simply talks about land for peace as a principle. I believe that if the Israelis would withdraw from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese land, the Arab world will be ready to have normal relationships with the state of Israel.”

Report: 20,000 Civilians Killed in Sri Lanka Conflict’s Final Weeks

The Times of London is reporting more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the final days of Sri Lanka’s attack on Tamil Tiger rebels–three times the official figure. Citing what it says are secret UN documents, the Times says around 1,000 people were killed every day from late April until the conflict ended ten days ago. The Sri Lankan military was accused of indiscriminately shelling no-fire zones, including two attacks on a major hospital. Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of using civilians as human shields. The Times says the evidence strongly supports allegations most of the civilians were killed by Sri Lankan military attacks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for an independent probe of war crimes during the conflict.

13 Killed in Pakistan Attacks

In Pakistan, thirteen people were killed Thursday in militant attacks targeting police officers. It was the second straight day of gun-and-bomb attacks from militant groups. The strikes are believed to be retaliation for the anti-Taliban offensive that has displaced more than two million people in the northwestern Swat valley. On Thursday, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes called Pakistan’s internal refugee crisis “unprecedented” in recent years.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “This is a plan for I think for 543 million dollars to deal with the current very severe and dramatic humanitarian situation that has arisen there. The scale and the speed of the displacement that we’ve seen over the last few weeks are really unprecedented, certainly in Pakistan but also in recent memory anywhere.”

Iraq to Arrest 1,000 Officials on Corruption Charges

The Iraqi government says it plans to arrest more than 1,000 officials in a massive corruption scandal that has forced its Trade Minister to resign. Trade Ministry workers are accused of profiting from Iraq’s importing of food supplies for programs that feed 60 percent of Iraqis. Video has also surfaced of trade officials at a party drinking alcohol and insulting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Amnesty: Human Rights Abuses Increasing in Mexico

In Mexico, Amnesty International says Mexican soldiers and police officers were involved in an increasing number of human rights abuses last year. Amnesty International’s Arturo Herrera criticized what he called growing impunity in Mexico.

Arturo Herrera: “Due to impunity, practically generalized also where authorities have not been at the height of circumstances, not only with regards to human rights abuses but also a situation of insecurity which prevails in the country which has not found an accurate response.”

Amnesty days the abuses have grown with the expansion of Mexico’s crackdown on drug cartel violence. Earlier this week, ten mayors of Mexican towns were arrested for allegedly collaborating with the cartels.

Pentagon to Launch Cyberspace Command

Back in the United States, the New York Times is reporting the Pentagon is planning a new military command focusing on cyberspace. The command would direct the military’s computer-based attacks. The news comes as President Obama is expected to announce a civilian office run by a ‘cyber-czar’ tasked with overseeing the protection of the nation’s computer networks later today.

Record 12% in Foreclosure, Behind on Payments

New figures show a record twelve percent of Americans are behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure. The Mortgage Banker Association says the first quarter results mark a four percent rise from the same period last year. Subprime loans accounted for more than 43 percent of delinquent mortgages.

Time Warner-AOL to Split

In business news, the media giant Time Warner has announced it will spin off internet stalwart AOL into a separate company. The two corporations merged nine years ago.

Study: Minimum Wage Hike Provides “Stealth Stimulus”

A new study says recent hikes to the U.S. minimum wage are acting as a “stealth stimulus” to the economy. The Economic Policy Institute says increases to the minimum wage will boost consumer spending by $4.9 billion dollars.

Creditors, Workers Approve GM Deal

Creditors of the auto giant General Motors have approved a deal that would see the U.S. government take at least 70 percent control of the company to save it from collapse. The Canadian government and the United Auto Workers union would also take up smaller ownership shares. On Thursday, a majority of UAW members also approved the ownership deal in return for major concessions on wages and benefits.

Study: Insured Families Pay Additional Costs for Uninsured

A new study says the average family with health insurance paid a hidden premium of more than $1,000 dollars to cover the medical costs of the uninsured. The group Families USA says $42 billion dollars, mostly in emergency room fees, was passed on to insurance companies by uninsured patients. The insurers in turn made up for the costs by imposing higher premiums on their customers.

Single-Payer Advocates Hold National Day of Action

A coalition of advocacy groups meanwhile is holding a national day of action Saturday for the establishment of a single-payer health care system. Events in more than 50 cities are set to include town hall meetings, rallies, vigils and protests outside insurance companies that profit from the medical system. The day of action is being organized by the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care.

Nader: Ex-DNC Chair Offered Money to Drop Out of ’04 Race

The consumer advocate Ralph Nader is accusing former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe of trying to bribe him to stay off the presidential ballot in 2004. Nader says McAuliffe offered his campaign an unspecified amount of money if he withdrew in 19 battleground states. McAuliffe is currently running for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

N.Y. Police Kill Off-Duty Black Officer

And here in New York, an off-duty African-American police officer has been killed by a fellow officer who mistook him for a criminal. The slain officer, 25-year old Omar Edwards, had come across a man breaking into his vehicle. He chased the man with his gun drawn when three police officers came upon him and opened fire. Edwards was recently married and the father of two children.

Local/Michigan Headlines: Granholm Supreme Court News; Hoekstra Doesn’t Think Waterboarding is Torture

Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from the past twenty-four hours:

  • Bias crime legislation vote put off by state House – Sponsors of a bias crime bill are delaying action in order to allow time to assess a series of amendments that have been proposed.
  • With governor as possible stealth nominee, legal observers ponder Justice Granholm – Michigan Messenger looks at what kind of Supreme Court Justice Governor Granholm would be. It’s difficult to predict since she doesn’t have a record of scholarly work or judicial opinions to review.
  • Right Michigan Calls Granholm a Tax Cheat–without Checking with the IRS – The conservative blog Right Michigan has been aggressively referring to Governor Jennifer Granholm as a “tax cheat,” saying that it will prevent her from being nominated for the Supreme Court while also asserting that it puts her in a similar category as other Obama nominees that had to bow out because of tax problems. However, the tax lien they take issue with was released last year according to Michigan Liberal. Ooops!
  • Hoekstra: Some waterboarding was legal – Representative Pete Hoekstra–and Republican candidate for governor in 2010–is now asserting that the waterboarding used by the United States in 2002 and 2003 was legal. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it has always been against U.S. law.
  • With contract ending in June, Dematic Corp. tells union workers it is considering moving their jobs to Memphis – A United Autoworkers (UAW) union contract is expiring in June and management has issued a letter threatening to move the facility to Tennessee. It’s a familiar script–try to force concessions from unions by threatening to move.
  • Police use of Tasers resparks debate following death of Bay City teen – Reading the headline, this story looked like it had potential. Perhaps the Grand Rapids Press would solicit comment from local law enforcement agencies on their usage of Tasers, talk to critics, and attempt looked into the issue in detail. Instead, the story is just a brief summary with the majority of comments focusing on an officer who trains other law enforcement officials in the use of Tasers. Oh, and it also has the seemingly obligatory selection of comments from The Press’ MLive.com website and an invitation for readers to join the discussion online.
  • FHA credit will give first-time home buyers $8,000 toward down payment – The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is soon going to allow the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit to be used as a down payment towards a new home. It’s potentially very exciting news for people looking to purchase their first home. The Grand Rapids Press has reaction from local lenders and realtors.
  • State budget forecast: Cuts may grow to 8% – Lawmakers are saying that more cuts may be necessary in light of declining tax revenues, continued unemployment, and uncertainty over the future of the auto industry.

If we missed anything, leave a comment below.

Headlines: Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse; Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse; Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Report: Admin Mulling Indefinite Jailing of Gitmo Prisoners in US

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Obama administration is considering holding foreign prisoners indefinitely and without trial following the planned closure of the US military jail at Guantanamo Bay. The plan would revive the military commission tribunals that President Obama ended shortly after taking office. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says current proposals include establishing some form of national security court that would authorize the indefinite imprisonment.

Obama Reverses Pledge to Release Photos of Prisoner Abuse

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has reneged on a pledge to release several dozen photos showing the torture and abuse of prisoners at overseas CIA and military jails. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But after indications he was having second thoughts, President Obama confirmed Wednesday he will block the photos’ release.

President Obama: “The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse.”

Around forty-three photos had been set for release. The military is believed to have as many as 2,000 photos depicting prisoner abuse. Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer who argued the case, said, “This essentially renders meaningless President Obama’s pledge of transparency and accountability that he made in the early days after taking office… [The Obama administration] has essentially become complicit with the torture that was rampant during the Bush years by being complicit in its coverup.”

FBI Agent, Ex-State Dept. Official Detail Torture Objections

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the interrogation of foreign prisoners Wednesday, the first such hearing since President Obama released the Bush administration legal memos authorizing torture. Testifying behind a wooden screen to protect his identity, former FBI agent Ali Soufan said the Bush administration’s so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were “slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful.”

Ali Soufan: “From my experience, I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as enhanced interrogation techniques, a position shared by professional operatives, including CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation. These techniques, from an operational perspective, are slow, ineffective, unreliable and harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda.”

Also testifying was former State Department counselor and 9/11 Commission head Philip Zelikow. Zelikow said Bush administration officials ordered him to destroy a memo he wrote criticizing the approval of torture. Subcommittee chair Senator Sheldon Whitehouse criticized the censorship of Zelikow’s objections.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: “We were told that waterboarding was determined to be legal, but were not told how badly the law was ignored, bastardized and manipulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.”

Senator Whitehouse went on to call for the establishment of a “truth commission” to further probe the Bush administration torture programs.

US Shares Drone Intelligence with Pakistan

The Pentagon says it’s provided Pakistan for the first time with surveillance material gathered by US drones. It’s unclear whether the intelligence sharing will continue beyond this one instance. Pakistani officials have recently increased calls for the US to share control of the drones, which have killed hundreds of Pakistanis in a series of bombings.

Obama Seeks New Regulation of Derivatives

The Obama administration is proposing new regulatory powers over derivatives, the complex financial instruments that played a major role in the nation’s economic collapse. Derivatives include credit default swaps, the controversial insurance contracts that led to the government bailout of insurance giant AIG. The White House wants new rules that would have credit default swaps traded on public exchanges and backed by existing capital. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the proposals would bring urgently needed oversight.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “Part of our approach will be not just getting the better rules, more sensible rules, more conservative rules across–risk taking across the financial system, but a cleaner, more simple, more consolidated oversight structure so that there’s less opportunity for arbitrage. It’s less easy for risks to just migrate around and move around the parts of the system where regulation is carefully designed.”

Senate Defeats Proposal to Cap Credit Card Rates

The Senate has defeated an amendment that would have capped credit card interest rates at 15 percent. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders tried to include the measure in a bill imposing new regulation on the credit card industry. Democratic lawmakers have vowed to protect consumers and crack down on the credit card companies’ abusive practices. But Sanders’ proposal drew just thirty-three votes, with a bipartisan group of sixty senators voting against. Sanders said, “When banks are charging 30 percent interest rates, they are not making credit available. They’re engaged in loan-sharking.”

Geithner-Led NY Fed Knew of AIG Bonuses

Newly released documents show federal officials were aware of the large bonus payments at the insurance giant AIG more than five months before they became a major public controversy. The bonus details were provided to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then headed by Timothy Geithner, before he became President Obama’s Treasury Secretary.

Drug Czar Calls for End to “War on Drugs”

The nation’s new drug czar is calling for an end to the so-called “war on drugs.” In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Gil Kerlikowske said, “People see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.” A former Seattle police chief, Kerlikowske has emphasized treatment and harm-reduction approaches to curbing drug use rather than standard US methods of criminalization. Kerlikowske also says he supports needle-exchange programs as part of viewing drugs as an issue of public health.

Pope Criticizes Israel’s Separation Wall

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Pope Benedict XVI continued his visit with a trip to Israel’s separation wall around the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. The Pope called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and decried the wall as “tragic.”

Pope Benedict XVI: “I have seen, adjoining the camp and overshadowing much of Bethlehem, the wall that intrudes into your territories, separating neighbors and dividing families. Although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down.”

Mother of Slain Soldier Cites War Zone Stress, Poor Mental Health Treatment

The mother of a US servicemember killed by another soldier in Iraq has said the war zone conditions and a lack of proper mental health services are partly responsible for her son’s death. Shawna Machlinski’s son Michael Edward Yates, Jr., was one of five US servicemembers who died in Monday’s shooting by Sergeant John Russell at a US military clinic in Baghdad.

Shawna Machlinski: “As much as I have a lot of anger towards him, I also have some sympathy, because I know he must have been going through a lot as well. That doesn’t excuse the fact that he murdered my son. But I believe that if he would have gotten the help that he was there to get maybe sooner or gotten more help, and other people recognized the signs, because there are signs, and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure those signs out.”

Russell is being held on five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. The Pentagon says Russell’s gun had been taken away and that he opened fire at the clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Suu Kyi Jailed, Charged for Uninvited Visit from US National

In Burma, the military junta has charged the confined pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for an uninvited visit from a US citizen who swam across a lake to reach her home. The junta says John Yettaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Her attorneys say Yettaw ignored Suu Kyi’s pleas to leave and spent a night sleeping on a ground floor. Earlier today, Suu Kyi and two aides were taken to a prison near the former capital of Rangoon. Suu Kyi has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest. She’s being charged with violating the terms of her detention.

Red Cross Worker Killed in Sri Lanka Bombing

In Sri Lanka, a Red Cross worker has become one of the latest victims of Sri Lankan government shelling on a tiny strip held by Tamil Tiger rebels. The attack followed the Sri Lankan military’s two separate bombings of a crowded hospital, killing fifty civilians. On Wednesday, President Obama called on both sides to end the violence.

President Obama: “First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals. The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone. Second, the government should give United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.”

7 Afghans Killed in Bombing Near U.S. Base

In Afghanistan, at least seven people were killed and another 21 wounded in a suicide bombing near a U.S. military base in the city of Khost. The victims were all Afghan workers employed at the base.

90 Hospitalized in Poison Attack at Afghan Girls’ School

In other news from Afghanistan, around 90 Afghan school girls were hospitalized this week following a poison attack at their school in Kapisa province. It was the third attack on an all-girls’ school in Afghanistan in as many weeks. Afghan police have blamed the Taliban but the group has denied responsibility.

Illinois Senate Opposes Escalation of Afghan Occupation

President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan is facing opposition in his home state of Illinois. The Illinois State Senate has passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan instead of Obama’s plans to increase the occupation.

Low Pay led to Fatigue for Co-Pilot in Buffalo Plane Crash

Federal transportation officials have revealed the Continental airlines plane that crashed near Buffalo earlier this year was co-piloted by a sleep-deprived twenty-four year old who made just $16,000 a year. Because of her low pay, Rebecca Lynn Shaw was forced to live with her parents in Seattle and commute by plane across the country to her Newark-based job. Fifty people were killed in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12th. The victims included Alison Des Forges, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rwanda and Beverly Eckert, who had become an advocate for 9-11 families after losing her husband in the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Denied Honoray Degree, Obama Delivers Commencement Address at ASU

President Obama delivered the commencement address at Arizona State University Wednesday, his first since becoming president. The school has sparked controversy over its refusal to award Obama an honorary degree, with officials explaining that Obama’s “body of work” has yet to come. During his address, Obama used the apparent snub to make the point that recognition shouldn’t be conferred based solely on titles or celebrity status. Obama is set to deliver the commencement address at Indiana’s Notre Dame University Sunday where he’s expected to face protests for supporting abortion rights.

Video Shows Police Officer Kicking Suspect’s Head

And in California, a police officer has been videotaped kicking a man in the head who had led police on a high-speed chase. The video shows the man voluntarily lying on the ground before the officer approaches and strikes him with his foot. The officer then high-fives another officer after the man is handcuffed.

Headlines: Blackwater Still Operating in Iraq; Pelosi Briefed on Torture in 2002

Democracy Now Headlines: Blackwater Still Operating in Iraq; Pelosi Briefed on Torture in 2002

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Backtracking on Initial Claims, Pentagon Admits Afghan Civilians Killed by U.S. Bombs

The Pentagon has acknowledged for the first time Afghan civilians were killed by U.S. bombs earlier this week. The toll from Monday’s bombing in Farah province remains unknown, with estimates topping one hundred civilians, including many women and children. On Thursday, a Pentagon official admitted to the New York Times initial U.S. claims of Taliban grenades causing the deaths were “thinly sourced.” Local residents have said the damage was far too extensive for any Taliban weapon to cause. On Thursday, hundreds of Farah residents protested outside the provincial governor’s office demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Three demonstrators were wounded after Afghan police officers opened fire.

Cost of Occupying Afghanistan to Exceed Iraq

The House Appropriations Committee meanwhile has approved a nearly $97 billion spending bill funding the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure was stripped of a more than $80 million dollar Obama administration request to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For the first time, the cost of occupying Afghanistan will surpass the total spent on occupying Iraq next year. In addition to more than half a trillion for the Pentagon, the Obama administration is seeking $65 billion for occupying Afghanistan, compared to $61 billion for Iraq.

UN: 500,000 Flee Pakistan Fighting

In Pakistan, the UN is estimating some half a million civilians have now fled clashes between government forces and Taliban fighters in Swat valley. Both sides have declared an end to the three-month truce that allowed the Taliban to impose Islamic law. On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani announced a major offensive against Taliban fighters.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani: “After due deliberations and consultations with all concerned, the government has decided to take the following actions: In order to restore honour and dignity of our homeland and to protect the people, the armed forces have been called in to eliminate the militants and terrorists.”

Aid officials say the escalated fighting could bring about a major humanitarian crisis in Swat valley.

Ex-Soldier Convicted in Iraq Rape, Murder Case

A former U.S. soldier has been convicted for the 2006 rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family. On Thursday, a federal jury found Steven Green guilty on all seventeen counts. Prosecutors say Green was the ringleader in raping and killing fourteen-year-old Abeer Kassem Hamza al-Janabi and killing her parents and five-year-old sister. Three soldiers have already been sentenced to life in prison in the case.

Blackwater Remains in Iraq Despite Contract’s Expiration

In Iraq, the Baghdad contract of the private military firm once known as Blackwater has officially expired. The company, now calling itself “Xe”, will continue to work elsewhere in Iraq. The firm Triple Canopy is taking over for Blackwater in Baghdad and is widely expected to rehire many of its guards. The Iraqi government refused to renew Blackwater’s license following the 2007 mass killing of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Five Blackwater guards face charges for the attack. In a new development in that case, two government informants are claiming Blackwater operatives gave their weapons to another contractor now charged with smuggling them out of Iraq. The informants say the Blackwater guards wanted to get rid of the weapons before they were investigated for the Nisoor massacre.

Fed: Bank Losses Could Approach $600B

The Federal Reserve has determined the nation’s top banks could lose nearly $600 billion by the end of next year. The warning came out of the government’s stress-test assessing the banks’ viability. The Fed has ordered ten banks to raise a combined $74.6 billion in capital to protect themselves against collapse. Of all the banks, the government says only GMAC–the financial arm of General Motors–is likely to need additional taxpayer aid.

Obama Budget Cuts 121 Programs

President Obama has unveiled a budget plan that would save $17 billion by cutting some 121 programs. Obama called the cuts a necessary step to avoid leaving crippling debt to future generations.

President Obama: “We came here today as part of President Obama’s commitment to use diplomacy, to use dialogue in order to try to see where we can move forward, where our interests overlap and to see where we can try to work together to bridge the differences.”

The Obama budget includes a four percent increase in military spending. The Pentagon would also see more cuts than any other department, totaling $8.8 billion from fourteen programs.

Despite Campaign Pledge, Obama Shuns Needle Exchange

Health advocates are criticizing a budget item that would reverse an Obama campaign pledge to combat the spread of HIV and AIDS by lifting the federal ban on needle exchange programs. The Obama budget includes language that bans any federal spending on needle exchange.

Chair of N.Y. Fed Resigns over Sachs Shares

The chair of the New York Federal Reserve has resigned amidst scrutiny over his financial ties to the bailed-out firm Goldman Sachs. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal revealed Stephen Friedman was given a waiver to hold shares in Goldman Sachs even after it became a regulated bank-holding firm. A former Goldman Sachs executive, Friedman was also found to have bought the shares even before he was granted the legal waiver. The shares are now estimated to be worth more than $2 million.

Documents Show Pelosi Briefed on Torture in 2002

Newly-released documents show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the Bush administration’s torture of foreign prisoners in September 2002. The disclosure apparently contradicts Pelosi’s claim she was never given details on what techniques were used. Intelligence records show Pelosi and then-House Intelligence Committee chair Porter Goss were briefed on the interrogation of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times. Pelosi says she was never told the waterboarding was used.

Group Calls for Probe of APA’s Role in Torture

The group Physicians for Human Rights is calling for an independent investigation of the role of the American Psychological Association in the U.S. torture of foreign prisoners. The APA has come under wide scrutiny for allowing psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations of prisoners at Guantánamo and secret CIA black sites. Physician for Human Rights says newly-released documents show the APA’s ethics task force altered its policy to conform with Pentagon guidelines on interrogations.

Burmese Junta Arrests U.S. Citizen for Suu Kyi Visit

In Burma, the military junta has detained a U.S. citizen who apparently swam across a lake to reach the home of the confined pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The junta says John William Yeattaw spent two days in Suu Kyi’s home before he was captured as he made his way out. Suu Kyi has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest.

Jailed Activist Lori Berenson Gives Birth in Peru

In Peru, the jailed American activist Lori Berenson has given birth to a baby boy. Berenson has spent nearly fourteen years in prison after hooded Peruvian military judges convicted her of collaborating with the rebel group MRTA. She’s eligible for conditional in release in November 2010.

U.S., Syrian Officials Hold Talks

Obama administration officials were in Syria Thursday for meetings with Syria’s Foreign Minister. Jeffery Feltman of the State Department said the U.S. is seeking to forge new diplomatic ties with Syria.

bq. Jeffery Feltman: “We came here today as part of President Obama’s commitment to use diplomacy, to use dialogue in order to try to see where we can move forward, where our interests overlap and to see where we can try to work together to bridge the differences.”

Pro-Independence Puerto Rico Activists Arrested for Capitol Protest

In Washington, D.C., six Puerto Rican activists were arrested Wednesday for staging a pro-independence demonstration inside the House. The group held up signs in the visitors area overlooking the House floor.

Study: 17% of U.S. Children Face Hunger Risk

A new report says more than seventeen percent of children younger than five are at risk of hunger in the United States. According to Feeding America, the figure means 3.5 million children could suffer cognitive and developmental damage resulting from not being properly fed.

N.Y. Activists Protest Treatment of Mentally-Ill Prisoners

Here in New York, a group of protesters rallied outside Governor David Patterson’s mid-town office Thursday to protest the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Last week Rikers Island prisoner Clarence Mobley died after a physical altercation with prison guards. He had been awaiting psychiatric evaluation. The group Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities has likened the treatment of mentally ill prisoners to torture that has driven some to suicide and declining mental health.

Kerrey to End New School Tenure in 2011

And in campus news, the embattled New School president Bob Kerrey has announced he’ll step down when his contract expires in 2011. Kerrey has been the target of a series of student protests on issues ranging from his alleged involvement in war crimes as a soldier in Vietnam, his record as a Democratic Senator, and his running of the New School. Kerrey received a no-confidence vote from the New School faculty last year.